The First Decision

I have been asked to write about our choice to switch and implement a new church management software.

It’s the reason I’ve taken some time off from this blog. I wanted to do some planning and organization. I want to be sure that I’m not throwing anyone or any software company under the bus. There were some tough decisions. I’m not even convinced they were all right, but they were (and) are best for the current situation.

I’ll start with the first decision.

When I started working at Fairview Baptist Church (9.26.16 to be exact), we were using a Church Management Software that seemed disconnected. When I executed a command to publish something to the public calendar, it didn’t show up on our public calendar. In hindsight, no one knew how to integrate these. The attendance and check-in systems weren’t overall integrated with the financial system which resulted in some people being entered into the system twice. Again, in hindsight, it would appear that no one knew how to solve this problem. The biggest issue I had was in running custom data reports. When I tried to save them, it came with a warning that if it wasn’t saved in exactly the right place – including typing the letter of the drive and all of the backslashes and semi-colons, that it would be stored on the server and inaccessible.  I’m sort of a cloud-person. I love creating, running, and re-running custom reports. Inaccessible data isn’t in my vocabulary. Besides, if it’s inaccessible, what good does it do us?

The end-user interface wasn’t there either. It was an office productivity tool only.

So my first task was to investigate new software programs. And I did: Fellowship One, Elexio, Breeze, Church Community Builder (CCB), Planning Center, Rock, and The City. There were a few others. Those I just mentioned made my short list. I signed up for demos and my bosses and I had some fun playing with the different features.

I talked to my bosses about what they disliked about the current software, where they thought processes could be improved, and how a new software could help with that. I talked to a few leaders in the church – asking them the same questions. Where they felt current processes could be improved and how a new software could help.

Based on their answers, I narrowed it down to one software, however, the cost for that software was greater than our budget would allow so I broke down a few areas and refocused. Rather than only think long-term, I thought about the immediate need. What will solve these problems right now. In the end we went with Breeze Church Management Software. I know that eventually our Church will outgrow this software. We will reach a point where we need more features than it gives. We’re already seeing that in some respects.

Breeze Church Management Software is an excellent software. It helps with office productivity, but provides a good end-user interface as a church directory. I’m impressed with their app, I’m also impressed with their ‘follow-ups’ feature. Their customer service some of the best I’ve experienced.

Overall, I’d say Breeze would be in my top three of the Church Management Software category. It’s got a lot of outstanding features. It’s got a good price and excellent customer service and support.

Our Real Life Experience

I’ve had a request to journal the real life decision-making process and on-boarding experience(s) at Fairview Baptist Church.  I’ve received permission to journal our experiences by our Senior Pastor, Matt Capps.  I’m excited to start this and I hope you can learn from our experiences.

Along the way, I’ll still give you glimpses into how I use Church Community Builder (CCB) at The Gathering Community Church and how I often compare the two.

I’ll start this journal later this week. Thanks for reading!

Remember What Is Important

I really like this article from Christianity Today. Read it all the way through to end.

My favorite Church buzzwords are: connections, assimilation, next steps, database, metrics, and follow-up. I really like seeing people connected and tracking numbers.

It’s what I do for fun. On weekends. In my free time.

Then this line jumped out at me.

This is not a church numbers game we’re playing. People’s lives and eternities are at stake.

Remember that every connection has the potential to lead to a life transformation. Have a great weekend!

Let’s Get Them Connected

If I could devote my life career to one thing, it would be Church Connections. I love my church (I love The Church – capital C).  There have been times in my life where I have needed things and my church family has been there for me in ways that my ‘real’ family was not.

Even better than my needs or my family’s needs being met, are the ways I can serve others. We all have gifts and talents and we all have a desire to serve and give. Turn on the news at Thanksgiving. You’ll see stories of people serving in shelters. Turn on the news at Christmas and you’ll see stories of toy drives and inspirational stories of people giving to others.We all want to feel like we’re a part of something greater than ourselves. We all want to see our lives as having purpose and significance.

How can we bring that to the local church? And, how can a Church Management Software be of use?

First, how do we bring the joy of serving to the church? Through technology or personal connections, you can find out where someone is gifted and talented. You can help them discover their spiritual gifts and find out what motivates them. Here are some questions I like to ask when meeting with a potential volunteer:

  1. What gets you out of bed in the morning – what are the issues you are passionate about?
  2. If you could work full time for a church, what would be your dream job?

Next, I go to my ministry team directors and ask them what types of people are needed for their team? What gifts, talents, and skill set does someone need to possess to serve on their team?

*Note: this is not a comprehensive list and there are some other factors, but this is a start.

Your Church Management Software can help you match people with ministries.  I’ll use CCB (Church Community Builder) as my example here because I think they do the best job at this.

A Ministry Team Director will build their positions.  Let’s say my position is door greeter and I choose what gifts, talents, and skills I’m looking for in a door greeter.

At the same time, the end-user is able to update their own profile and choose their gifts, talents, abilities.

These areas of the software can be customized for your Church using your language.

The Ministry Team Director can run a report to see who meets their needs and sort it based on percentage. (ie, this person meets 7 of your 10 qualifications, etc.)

If the position is an open/listed position, the end user can search ways to serve based on the gifts, talents, and abilities they’ve entered.

In a perfect world, the person will contact that Ministry Team Director who is probably already looking at a report with that person’s name on it. And now you’ve got the right person, filling the right position.

This is just an example of how CCB can be used.  With Breeze, I’ve chosen to build a custom form listing  our ministry teams.  Someone can fill out that form and the results can be sent to the team leader for personal follow up.

When it comes to serving, I don’t think a Church Management Software can ever take the place of personal interviews or the connection someone will have with their Ministry Team Director or with those with whom they serve. But it can help you take a step in the right direction and fill those gaps on your ministry teams.

How have you used a Church Management Software to help you with connections?

A Follow Up Plan

Event planning should always include a follow up plan. How are you following up with your visitors.

Your Church service should be no different. How are you following up with your first time guests?  How are you tracking the effectiveness of your follow up?

Nearly all church management software programs will include fields for ‘membership type’ (or similar wording).  Many offer automated process queues or follow-up alerts.

Use those features and allow them to help you better see where each person is in the process.

Who Is Using The Software, Part 2

We’re answering the questions from yesterday based on case studies from actual churches.

Who is your software administrator – a paid employee or a trusted volunteer?

This will depend on your resources and structure.  Whoever has this position, there are four key elements:

  1. Have a vetting process – check references.
  2. Set clear expectations and boundaries – job description and parameters.
  3. Grant authority – allow your administrator to make some decisions.
  4. Be a champion – make sure other ministry team leaders are aware of the administrator’s authority to make decisions on software usage.

Read: Seth Muse’s blog post on 6 ingredients of a great volunteer.

Who has access to financial information?

This will depend on your church structure.  Above all, I recommend this be a very small circle.  Start with one person, and branch out from there, continually evaluating.  I know of one church of 300+ where every Deacon (volunteers voted to their position by the Congregation) has access.  I know of another church of 300+ where only 4 key volunteers have access, one of those volunteers is the Elder who oversees finance.

Software features will also dictate this.  A software based on role-based permissions will grant everyone with the same role, the same set of permissions.  For example, everyone in a Deacon role will have the same set of permissions.

A software designed for individual permissions will give  you that.  Church Community Builder will allow you to give permissions based on the person, rather than their role.

Who has access to basic information – names, addresses, phone numbers?

This is virtually an on-line director and will force you to answer another question – are you using this as an office productivity tool or do you want the congregation to use it for church communications.

In almost all Church Management Software programs, there are ways to partition what people see.  In some, this is done from the office/administrator role and in others, each individual user has the ability to set up their own communication and security preferences.

Who is using this for messaging? Have your driven communications into the hands of group leaders or is this a staff tool to help improve productivity?

Most software programs that offer role-based permissions will somewhat limit who has church-wide communication abilities and in some of these, permissions cannot be ‘stacked.’  For example, I’ve found using Breeze, that if I give all Children’s Teachers the same permissions to check in and view their students, but one of them needs additional permissions to create schedules and send messages, I need to create a different role just for that one person.

On the other hand, Church Community Builder offers person-based privileges to that I can modify the individual’s profile and set up the privileges they need.  CCB also offers group privileges.  I may be able to give one group leader the ability to publish their events on a public calendar (ie, a community outreach group), but another another group leader (ie, the church parking team), may not have that same ability.

What questions do you have regarding access and communications?

 

Who Is Using The Software?

An important decision you’ll  make often while using your Church Management Software is: who is using this?

  • Is your software administrator a paid employee or do you trust a volunteer in this role?
  • Who has access to your financial information?
  • Who has access to basic information – phone numbers, addresses?
  • Who is using this for messaging?  Have you driven communications into the hands of group leaders or is this a staff tool to improve productivity?

There are no right or wrong answers. Each church has to make decisions based on their structure and resources.

Tomorrow we’ll break down these questions and offer some real answers from real software users.

More on why it’s important for the whole Church to work together.

This evening I received an attendance reminder for an event.  An event that was canceled.  I’m listed as a group leader and with CCB, there’s an option when setting up an event, to have automatic attendance reminders sent to the group leader(s) of the group hosting the event.

The event that was canceled.

The event that was canceled that is also listed on the public web site calendar.

The event that was canceled that is also listed on the public web site calendar that also has a form available to sign up that is listed on the public list of forms.

Shall I go on?

With many Church Management Software programs, there are options to link things to your public web site or display them on public lists. Assuming that your software administrator is working closely with the web site designer and communications director (if those three areas of responsibility don’t already fall to one in the same person), with one click, what is entered into CCB can automatically go to your public web site.

*View this log-in page for The Gathering Community Church.  (Notice in the upper right the links to Forms, Find A Gathering Group, and Calendar.)  If you click calendar, please ignore the hockey game slated for January 14, 2017.  That will be deleted soon. If you click forms, please ignore the link to the hockey game sign up form.  That also will be deleted. Not soon enough.

A case like the one I’m looking at this evening, is further reason that you should make sure all of your ministry team leaders are working closely with each other and with your software administrator, to maximize the use of your church management software and understand how it connects the entire Church.

Including the public web site.

*I hope that by the time you read this, the hockey game won’t be listed on either of those pages.

CHURCH Management Software

Church Management Software is software for the entire church.

When discussing Church Community Builder (CCB) with a friend, who was then serving as Executive Pastor for church, he said, “this is worth any amount you pay for it, even if you only use it for children’s check in.”

This Church did have a high ratio of children (birth – elementary) to adults and they were more than likely maximizing that area of the software.

If you want to maximize your software and get everything you are paying for, it’s important to know everything it will do and how it all fits together.

Do the people who input financial contributions know to look for families who may have been entered at children’s check in prior to entering a new contributor?

Does your Next Steps Director know how to run reports to see who was entered and how to merge family members together?

There are two important things that can help you maximize your software.

  • Who is your software administrator?  Designate one person who understands how the software affects the Church as a whole.  This is one person who will have access to the entire software and should have authority to make judgement calls on where, when and how it is used. The software administrator may not reflect the structure of the Church.  The Senior/Lead Pastor is leading the Church, but may not be the best person to act software administrator. The software administrator should be trusted with all affairs of the Church. Choose your software administrator wisely and make sure Ministry Team Leaders understand their authority in making decisions as to how the software is used.

 

  • Regular ongoing training.  Your software administrator should participate in any training provided by the software company.  But most importantly, anyone within your congregation needing upgraded permissions to perform tasks, should be trained on it’s use.  Since every action within one area of the software has the potential to affect other areas, it is important that everyone is on the same page and understands how to use it.

How did you choose your software administrator?

How is your church providing ongoing training to Church Leaders?

 

What Do You Need?

I live in North Carolina. Over the weekend we had snow. And ice. It was only a few inches of snow with a nice glaze of ice. Enough ice that there were people ice skating on neighborhood streets. Terms were thrown around: Snowmageddon, Snowpocolypse, Snowzilla.

What we in North Carolina call “Snowmageddon,” people in other parts of the country might call “average Monday morning.”

One of the things we do is run to the store and stock up on bread, milk, toilet paper, and snack food (any brand of potato chips or crackers will do).  There are long lines at the gas pumps. People rush to get everything they need to ‘hunker down’ for an unknown period of time. Personally, and inevitably, I always forget something. (This time I forgot that I have a 17-year-old son with an electric guitar and thus, I forgot earplugs. And ibuprofen.)

Philippians 2:4 instructs us to not only look out for our own interest, but also the interest of others.  This can be a daunting task for church leaders – shepherds caring for their flock.

How can a good Church management software help?

This weekend, Fairview Baptist Church in Apex, NC, used the forms feature within Breeze ChMS to create a custom form.

They asked simple questions:

  • Are you in need of anything?
  • Are you able to offer your home to someone without power?
  • Are you able to safely drive and run errands or provide rides to people?

Form responses were automatically sent (emailed) to one person, but also accessible by people with form privileges within the software.

Church Community Builder has a ‘needs’ feature for each group in the software.  Group leaders can create needs, group members can sign up to take those needs.  Church leaders with full software privileges can view those needs and sign ups across all groups.

These are just a few examples of how a Church management software can help you meet the needs of your Church body.

How are you managing needs within your own Church?